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Vale Colin George

We learned today via The Advertiser of the passing on October 15 of Colin George, who was Artistic Director of State Theatre Company from 1977 – 1980. Colin was a great man of the theatre and his influence was felt strongly in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

Below is a link to his obituary published in The Guardian:

George, who has died aged 87, was one of the post-war generation of British directors who moved theatre on from fortnightly rep in “the provinces” to more adventurous productions that could compete with television drama and the West End stage. – The Guardian

Colin George came to the State Theatre Company as Artistic Director in 1977 with the twenty-five years’ experience as a successful actor and director in British regional theatre, notably in Nottingham and Sheffield, where he was founding Artistic Director of the Crucible Theatre. He had also guest-directed for such renowned companies as the Old Vic Theatre, the Shakespeare Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario and the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

A man of great industry, enthusiasm and maturity, he brought to the company a sense of stability and professional focus. From the outset he made ambitious plans and while his visions of extensive alterations to both the Playhouse and the Space did not materialise, Colin quickly learned to cut his cloth to suit the times and from March 1977 until June 1980 audiences in the Playhouse saw the theatre arts blossom in Adelaide. His three years and six months as artistic director brought 38 major production to the Playhouse or the Space, 21 of which he directed himself.

Colin had a taste and a talent for the lavish and the bold, and high production values and heavily designed productions were regular fare during his directorate. He asked for standards of design which he believed did the plays, the theatre and the company justice and properly stretched the abilities of its workshops and technicians. The results delighted audiences. The Advertiser’s critic Alan Roberts was also generally an enthusiastic supporter of the George style, naming Colin’s production of Macbeth the finest he had ever seen and giving his production of  The School for Scandal a rapturous response.

A well as working with the leading Adelaide actors of the day such as Don Barker, Daphne Grey, Barbara West and Dennis Olsen, Colin continued the Company’s policy of encouraging recent acting graduates from NIDA to accept year-long contracts. Stellar talents who joined the Company during this period were Colin Friels, Mel Gibson, Judy Davis and Michael Siberry, the latter’s Hamlet creating the springboard for an outstanding career in British theatre, much of it spent with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Some of his colleagues from the time remember Colin:

“Colin George – much loved and respected by everyone who came in contact with him. He will be especially remembered by the young people he nurtured and guided during his tenure here at State Theatre Company of South Australia.” – Edwin Hodgeman

“I was the resident lighting designer when Colin took over as Artistic Director of the company. He was a remarkable man. Steeped in the great traditions of English rep theatre and fresh from his hugely successful nurturing of the nascent Sheffield Crucible Theatre. On his first day as artistic director the entire company – actors, workshop staff, wardrobe, administration etc were assembled in a great circle in the rehearsal room. In turn we each introduced ourselves and our role in the company. As soon as the circle completed Colin went around and repeated all our names – a remarkable feat considering it was about 60 people that he was meeting for the first time.

With a resident acting company in those days Colin pulled off a very smart trick. He would offer the cream of each years NIDA graduates a full year contract straight after graduation. A wonderful deal for a young actor. This lead to an acting company that included at times such actors as Judy Davis, Mel Gibson, Colin Friels, Michael Siberry etc.

He was a wonderfully warm and energising presence in our company.”  – Nigel Levings

Colin George’s last year saw the Company work at an unprecedented pitch, achieve 4,100 subscribers and employ seventy actors and thirty technical staff in staging eleven new production, 108 Roadshows, plus 104 Magpie Theatre in Education performances, play readings and tours. All in all a record 606 performances were given.  At the time of his departure Malcolm Gray, Chairman of the Board wrote:

“What the Company has achieved is Colin’s tribute to us. What the company will achieve in the future will be our tribute to him.” 

State Theatre Company mourns Colin’s passing but celebrates his unique contribution to its early history.